A Rockland resident is suing the city over sweeping changes city councilors made to Rockland’s residential zoning ordinances earlier this month.
The zoning amendments reduce minimum lot size, frontage and setback requirements, as well as square footage requirements for properties in all three of the city’s residential zones. The changes also allow for detached accessory apartments as a conditional use in each of the zones and opens the door to allowing tiny houses in the city.
In a lawsuit filed Monday, Paul Gibbons, an attorney for Rockland resident James Ebbert, calls the zoning changes “stunning and unpredictable.” The lawsuit alleges that city officials did not give enough public notice for the City Council meeting at which a final vote on the changes was held.
The lawsuit also alleges that the zoning changes violate the city’s comprehensive plan because they do “not take into consideration the preservation of the character of the neighborhood,” as required by the plan.
Prior to the City Council’s vote on the changes, the city’s comprehensive plan committee spilt on whether the changes conform with the comprehensive plan and recommended postponing the vote.
The residential zoning changes were recommended by the city’s housing task force, which was formed last year to look at ways Rockland could improve its housing stock.
Proponents of the zoning changes argue that the new requirements would open more housing opportunities and bring many existing properties into compliance with zoning standards.
However, some residents voiced concern that the reduced lots sizes would lead to infill and change the character of many Rockland neighborhoods.
A group of about 18 residents is circulating a petition to have the zoning changes overturned through a referendum process. The petitioners have until March 12 to collect 523 signatures from Rockland residents, according to City Clerk Stuart Sylvester. If they are successful in collecting the needed signatures, a referendum election would then be scheduled.
Ebbert has lived in Rockland for 20 years and said that suing the city was the last thing he wanted to do. However, he believes that proper process was not followed and that the changes will hurt property values and change the character of Rockland neighborhoods.
“People who preach about housing crises often mean well. However, promoting ideas that disrupt the character of every neighborhood in the city and destroy housing values, makes the rest of us suffer the negative consequences as sacrificial lambs for their noble causes,” Ebbert said.
The City Council will meet Wednesday night in executive session “for the discussion of pending litigation,” according to a meeting notice sent out Tuesday.